12 February 2008

The Sixties: A Patriot’s History

History is the memory of states.
Henry Kissinger

The chapter, “The Age of Upheaval, 1960-1974,” in A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen takes a long view of the Sixties in the United States, albeit severely circumscribed by the bounds of the history of government. Arthur Marwick also advocates a long view of the Sixties, but emphasizes cultural developments, as well as political and economic. Marwick’s The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c. 1958-c. 1974 (1998) offers an international perspective that is wholly lacking in A Patriot’s History.

Schweikart and Allen's “The Age of Upheaval” begins with Richard Nixon’s defeat in the Presidential election of 1960 and concludes with his resignation in the wake of Watergate. The authors accuse Kennedy of election fraud in 1960, while they exonerate Nixon’s behavior in 1971-72. They place the Watergate burglary in a context of “Lyndon Johnson bugged Goldwater’s campaign offices in 1964, and nothing was done about it” (716). They mention Daniel Ellsberg’s role in providing “secret documents to the New York Times” (712), but omit the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and nothing of the “rat-fucking” that would be familiar to anyone who had seen All the President’s Men (1976).

Nixon authorized the formation of an investigative unit within the White House and assigned it the job of cracking down on government leakers, starting with Daniel Ellsberg. In September [1971], probably with Nixon’s knowledge, the “Plumbers” broke into the offices of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to get information that would help convict Ellsberg, who had been indicted for violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property. … Undertaking a campaign of what they called “rat-fucking,” they engaged in a series of dirty tricks to disrupt the campaigns of Democrats who were vying to oppose Nixon in the 1972 election.
Chris Finan, From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (2007), 232.

The authors of A Patriot’s History exhibit bipartisanship in their criticism of President Eisenhower’s role in actions that facilitated the disasters of the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam, but as he “was no traditional Republican and more of a moderate … [who] posed no threat to [Franklin] Roosevelt’s legacy” (668), such evenhandedness seems easy. Nixon, on the other hand, seemed more conservative, but “his social and economic programs had far more in common with FDR than with a true conservative like Ronald Reagan” (668).

Pundits use terms like “true conservative,” but historians need to offer better definitions than I’ve found so far in A Patriot’s History. Even the divisive conservative pundit Cal Thomas has recently taken issue with declarations that Arizona Senator and Presidential Candidate John McCain is not a “true conservative”:

John McCain, some say, is not a true conservative. Was Reagan? Reagan campaigned as a tax cutter. He cut taxes, but he also raised them. He promised conservative judges and spoke of his opposition to abortion, yet named two justices to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy) who voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.
Thomas, “Redefining Conservatism

It comes as no surprise that attack dogs have spammed with ad hominems calling Thomas Republican in Name Only (RINO).

Conscience of a Conservative

Schweikart and Allen make it a point to identify the ghostwriters that penned John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning Profiles in Courage (1956), while leaving in place the fiction that Barry Goldwater wrote Conscience of a Conservative (1960). My conscience would rebel if I offered this fiction and knew otherwise; Schweikart and Allen certainly should know that Goldwater was not the author if either one of them took the time to read the only text they cite in the paragraph that mentions Conscience of a Conservative as “providing a list of Goldwater’s policy positions” (682). The footnote refers readers to Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001).

At least Kennedy had a hand in the production of Profiles in Courage, even if he did not write the text. Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, on the other hand, was presented to Goldwater for his approval after having been fully written by L. Brent Bozell at the behest of Clarence Manion.

Manion had negotiated the grudging noninterference of Goldwater in their efforts to publish something under his name. … Over the holidays Goldwater skimmed Bozell’s manuscript and pronounced it fine.
Perlstein, Before the Storm, 51, 61.

Schweikart and Allen state that the ideas in Conscience, “were hardly radical positions” (682); Perlstein’s view differs:

The ideas that followed—in chapters like “Freedom for the Farmer,” “Freedom for Labor,” “Taxes and Spending,” “The Welfare State,” “Some Notes on Education,” and “The Soviet Menace”—were radical. Conscience of a Conservative domesticated them.
Perlstein, Before the Storm, 64.

Opinions will differ. Schweikart and Allen deserve credit for offering footnotes to works with perspectives at odds with their narrative. However, the notes appear as documentation not counter argument. Their intent is unclear.

11 February 2008

Origins of Malaria

Agriculture and Malaria

In July 2001, The Economist notified its readers of two articles in Science published that month concerned with the origins of malaria. Both articles, the news magazine noted, employed studies in genetics to explore a hypothesis put forth more than forty years earlier by Frank B. Livingstone in American Anthropologist. In “Anthropological Implications of Sickle Cell Gene Distribution in West Africa,” Livingstone suggested that the development of agriculture in western Africa brought Plasmodium falciparum as a parasite into human populations, and “the spread of this agriculture is responsible for the spread of the selective advantage of the sickle cell gene” (555). He concludes:

The agricultural revolution has always been considered an important event in man's cultural evolution, but it also seems to have been an important event in man's biological evolution. … [Disease became a significant limiting factor in population growth.] Two results of the agricultural revolution seem to account for this change in the role of disease in human evolution: (1) the great changes in the environment, and (2) the huge increase in the human population. Both of these seem to be involved in the development of holoendemic malaria. First, when man disrupts the vegetation of any area, he severely disrupts the fauna and often causes the extinction of many mammals, particularly the larger ones. When this happens, there are many known instances of the parasites of these animals adapting to man as the new host. It is thus possible that the parasitization of man by P. falciparum is due to man's blundering on the scene and causing the extinction of the original host. Second, concomitant with the huge increase in the human population, this population became more sedentary and man also became the most widespread large animal. Thus, he became the most available blood meal for mosquitoes and the most available host for parasites. This change resulted in the adaptation of several species of the Anopheline mosquito to human habitations and the adaptation of many parasites to man as their host.
Livingstone, “Sickle Cell Gene Distribution,” 556.

One of the Science articles presented research by the Harvard-Oxford Malaria Genome Diversity Project. Sarah K. Volkman, Alyssa E. Barry, and the others on the team analyzed “25 introns from eight independent isolates” (482) which they found deficient in single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Their data led to an estimated age of 3200 to 7700 years for the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of extant P. falciparum, and 9500 to 23,000 for the age of MRCA when two “suspect SNPs” are included.

[T]he establishment of slash-and-burn agriculture in the African rainforest less than 6000 years ago … could have provided suitable expansion conditions for the mosquito vectors of P. falciparum and adequate human population size to maintain transmission.
Volkman, et al., “Recent Origin of Plasmodium falciparum,” 483.

The other article examined “genetic defense mechanisms … for resisting infection by Plasmodium” (455). Estimating the ages of two glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) alleles that “are restricted to specific geographic regions,” Sarah A. Tishkoff and her co-authors note the ages correspond with the development of agriculture. They estimate that G6PD “A- mutation arose in the past 3840 to 11,760 years” (459) and the Med allele 1600 to 6640 years ago. They note that the age of the A- allele partly supports the hypothesis of Frank Livingston, but that “an increase in both temperature and humidity between 12,000 and 7000 years ago” in Africa may have contributed to malaria’s spread earlier in the Sahara and east Africa (460). They note that malaria had been present in human populations much longer, but that “more severe malaria did not become hyperendemic until the past 10,000 years” (460). They also state:

It is possible that the recent and rapid spread of the Med allele across a broad geographic region may correspond with the spread of agriculture during a Neolithic expansion and migration across Europe from the Middle East 10,000 to 5000 years ago.
Tishkoff, et al., “Haplotype Diversity and Linkage,” 460.

These two articles were not published without skepticism from other researchers in genetics, epidemiology of malaria, and related subjects. In “Malaria's Beginnings: On the Heels of Hoes?” in the same issue of Science, Elizabeth Pennisi outlined some aspects of the controversy. The “prevailing view has long favored ancient origins,” she notes, but several studies in recent years have supported the “link between malaria and agriculture” (416-417).

Two years after the flurry of articles in Science in 2001, another article offered additional support both for the ancient origin and for the more recent expansion of P. falciparum. Deidre A. Joy and her co-authors “reject the claim that the parasite originated 6000 years ago,” but suggest that the population of the parasite likely remained small for a long period. Their data “provide[s] strong evidence for a recent and rapid population expansion in Africa followed by migration to other regions” (321).

Historical Significance

If P. falciparum, the parasite that causes the most virulent form of malaria, expanded in concert with agriculture, it joins many other maladies that have made gatherings of humans into towns and cities unhealthy places for most of human history.

As the development of agriculture made possible the rise of cities, food became cheaper but often less varied. The rise of towns and cities with the expansion of agriculture reduced the overall health of human populations. Deleterious effects of the Neolithic revolution included sedentary lifestyles, repetitive physical tasks (swinging a scythe, for example, or pounding grain into flour), ecological degradation, and new illnesses. Cities were terribly unhealthy abodes for humanity until the twentieth century developments of modern water and sewage treatment, plumbing, and garbage disposal. These themes are central to the arguments in The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere (2002), edited by Richard H. Steckel and Jerome C. Rose, and of Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997).

In general, the healthiest populations were hunter-gatherers, and the least healthy lived in large settlements supported by systematic agriculture. Our statistical analysis of the health index identifies settlement size and use of domesticated plants as the two most important factors associated with the long-term decline in pre-Columbian health.
Steckel and Rose, “Conclusions,” The Backbone of History, 587.

Sedentary farmers became surrounded not only by their own feces but also by disease transmitting rodents, attracted by the farmers’ stored food. The forest clearings made by African farmers also provide ideal breeding habitats for malaria-transmitting mosquitos.
Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, 205.

Civilization made us sick, but it also made us more numerous so we could impose our will on those otherwise more fortunate. The maladies that afflicted Europeans contributed in significant measure to their global expansion.

05 February 2008

Blogrolls, Amnesty, Bipartisanship

Internet links are capital.
---Jon Swift
This past weekend and continuing into this week, the celebration of Blogroll Amnesty Day endures. We’re told that originally this term referred to a purging of links so as to start anew with only those actually read. But, the anniversary has flipped the idea into an open policy of down-linking to grab the bootstraps of new bloggers still emerging from the primordial slime and pulling up.

Several of the celebrants have noted patterns of linking only to like-minded compadres. Liberals links to others on the Left, and Conservatives to others on the Right, while those in the middle lean one way or the other.

In a email a few months ago, I told Larry Schweikart, whose conservative A Patriot’s History provided the impetus for my entry into Blogging, that:

I have made it my lifelong practice to read, study, and even teach texts that I might otherwise ignore if I acted on my first impulse.

In another email, I offered some comments to Eddie Carson regarding his posting of a criticism of A People’s History.

The comment you passed along from a critical reader of Zinn that "opinions are like armpits..." clearly reflects a naive acceptance of a conventional approach to history that privileges the writings of dead white men in power, rather than the masses of people that endured the consequences of their actions; this sort of history was what Zinn had in mind in his criticism of Kissinger's statement that "history in the memory of states." It is notable that the long email you passed along puts forth ideas with banal humor, but refuses to engage Zinn's own theory of what he is doing, almost as if the author of the email thinks that he or she is saying something that Zinn hasn't thought about. Yet, Zinn specifically addresses why he considers rejection of that view necessary.

Patriots and Peoples is more concerned for the past than the partisanship of the present. But no one on earth looks at the history of human life here from a neutral point of view. My focus is not dissimilar to that of Spinning Clio, where the politics of history meets the history of politics. I am reading two histories with which I disagree in part and agree in part—the conservative A Patriot’s History and the liberal A People’s History. Just as recent elections have shown that not all the people are liberal, and precious few are genuine Marxists, so we learn that not all patriots are Republicans, despite efforts to claim otherwise.

I advocate reading The Nation alongside The National Review; Andrew Sullivan and Doghouse Riley, and even Ann Coulter along with Historiann. Truth always comes with a slant, commonly the one that cuts across our assumptions.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---
---Emily Dickinson
Link down and link up, but link across too. While you’re linking, read those with which you disagree.

Thanks to Jon Swift, Buck Naked Politics, Doghouse Riley, and Dancing with Myself for being the first to take notice of this notebook of ramblings and readings in history.

04 February 2008

Death in Jamestown

Fyndeinge of fyve hundrethe men we had onely Lefte aboutt sixty, The reste beinge either sterved throwe famin or Cutt of by the salvages.
George Percy, “A Trewe Relacyon”
In early 1610, sixty English colonists remained from the previous year’s population of five hundred. After two years, the colony at Jamestown had not yet established itself as a viable settlement. Approximately 90% of the colonists to Virginia had died—killed by Indians, starved, fallen to disease—or run away and disappeared into the wilds of America. Conditions were so grim that the surviving remnant prepared four boats and set out to return to England. Some considered burning the small fort where they had suffered, but were persuaded that it might yet be occupied by others who would follow them. As they sailed downriver, they met Lord De La Ware’s ship loaded with supplies and more than three hundred additional colonists. They returned to Jamestown.

The colonists would continue to die. Each ship that arrived in Virginia brought more colonists and most died within two years. Of the many thousands who arrived year after year, perhaps 900 occupied Jamestown and the surrounding area in 1620 (Gately, 73). So many colonists died that an investigation by the Royal Council in 1624—the year that John Smith published his Generall Historie—asked, “What has become of the five thousand missing subjects of His Majesty?” (Morison, 54).

John Smith described the conditions in 1607. Food consisted of meager rations from the common store.
… halfe a pinte of Wheat, and as much Barly boiled with water for a man a day, and this having fryed some six and twenty weekes in the ships hold, contained as many wormes as graines
Smith, “Description,”
Hunger was aggravated by thirst. The colonists were reduced to drinking water from the river.
… when they [Captain Newport and the ships] departed, there remained neither Taverne, Beere-house, nor place of reliefe but the common kettell. … our drinke was water.
Smith, “Description”
George Percy noted the abysmal conditions of the water.
… our drinke cold water taken out of the River, which was at a floud verie salt, at a low tide full of slime and filth, which was the destruction of many of our men.
Percy, “Observations”
Earlier in this paragraph, Percy gives us the earliest diagnosis of the maladies that would continue to devastate the Virginia colony for more than a decade.
Our men were destroyed with cruell diseases as Swellings, Flixes, Burning Fevers, and by warres, and some departed suddenly, but for the most part they died of meere famine.
Percy, “Observations”
Flixes seems most likely a reference to dysentery, but what caused the fevers?


In A Patriot’s History of the United States, Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen clearly identify one of the principal causes of death.
Disease also decimated the colony. Jamestown settlers were leveled by New World diseases for which they had no resistance. Malaria, in particular, proved a dreaded killer, and malnutrition lowered the immunity of the colonists.
Schweikart and Allen, A Patriot’s History, 17.
The identification of malaria as a principal malady killing the settlers is neither surprising nor original. The textbook I read in my first college course in early American history also identified malaria, which the authors linked to the poor choice of location for the settlement.
The town was located on marshy ground where mosquitoes flourished during the summer, and a hundred of the first settlers died from malaria.
Weinstein and Wilson, Freedom and Crisis, 63.
An article in The Pilgrim Newsletter published in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown continues this common assertion, “Malaria and other mosquito born illnesses were rampant in the colony” (Stacy, 17). School children at Jamestown Elementary School in Virginia incorporated this idea into a Rap song written as part of a school project.

Although the identification of malaria as a killer of colonists is not uncommon, Schweikart and Allen's add a new twist with their assertion that it was a “New World disease” against which the English lacked immunities. In contrast to this original idea, a statement from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reflects the current state of knowledge concerning malaria in the New World.
Plasmodium vivax stowed away with the English going to Jamestown, while P. falciparum rode along with slaves from Africa.
Background History on Malaria
P. vivax thrived in northern Europe for centuries, but it killed very few. P. falciparum is far more deadly. Indeed, it is one of the world's leading killers even today. If the English colonists succumbed to malaria, it came with them. But they were unlikely to succumb until a more virulent strain was brought in with imported servants from Africa. The first of these arrived in 1619 by which time the English population at Jamestown was growing and reasonably healthy.

If not Malaria?

The common assertion that malaria killed the Jamestown settlers rests on a weak foundation. In Malaria: Poverty, Race, and Public Health in the United States (2001), Margaret Humpheys suggests that the English colonists might have brought malaria with them. The strain of malaria they brought—P. vivax—was less virulent than that likely brought sometime after 1619 from Africa—P. falciparum. Humphreys earned a medical degree from Harvard as well as her Ph.D. in the history of science. Her qualifications for assessing the epidemiology of colonial Virginia would seem more than adequate. It thus comes as no surprise that her book is thorough and well argued, and offers only tentative conclusions in recognition of the absence of the sort of medical data required to make a definitive diagnosis.

Humphreys leaves Schweikart and Allen’s novel allegation in shambles: there is no credible reason to believe that malaria was a New World disease. She also offers good reasons to doubt their commonplace assertion that malaria was the cause of the fevers about which Percy and Smith wrote.
The Jamestown settlers came from England, including parts of England where vivax malaria was common. They certainly could have brought it with them. But one would not expect such a nonvirgin population, however malnourished, to experience a major outbreak of vivax malaria with that level of mortality.
Humphreys, Malaria, 24.
Humpreys suggests that the level of mortality is more consistent with typhoid fever than malaria. Typhoid fever had been put forth as an explanation in the work of Wyndham Blanton in the first half of the twentieth century and by Carville Earle in the second half of the century. Earle notes that the parasites Salmonella typhi and Endamoeba histolytica were present in the “slime and filth” that Percy observed in the water.
Ironically, most of them died needlessly, for on at least two occasions, Virginians understood the nexus between site and mortality, and they eliminated that link through the preventative medicine of settlement dispersal only to have their costly insights overturned by company agents freshly arrived in Virginia.
Earle, “Pioneers of Providence,” 482.
Of course, settlement dispersal rendered the colonists more vulnerable to Indian attack. It was bad enough that the English were economically dependent upon the Natives for many of their provisions, whether through trade or abundant theft. The Indians frequently found cause for hostilities—Percy mentions for example an accidental shooting of a Native when a “pistoll suddenly fyered and shotte the salvage” (Nicholls). Moreover, archaeological excavations and “tree-ring analysis of cypress trees” suggest that the Natives were already suffering scarcity of crops due to a severe drought during the years 1606-1612 (Sheler). The additional burden of feeding the helpless English during hard times did not bode well for peaceful relations.

Plausible Deniability

Schweikart and Allen’s statement that malaria killed the Virginia colonists could be true, but more than likely it is false. Their original claim would merit consideration if they offered some evidence in support. The most convincing scholarship available when they were writing their book suggests an alternate hypothesis that seems more likely. They ignore Humpreys' text. Perhaps the belief that malaria killed the colonists should go the way of Smith’s alleged rescue at the hands of an eleven year old Indian child—a useful myth that is probably false but cannot be proven false beyond all doubts.

Their identification of malaria as a New World disease, on the other hand, is absurd. Even so, they do not state unequivocally that it was. The transition from “New World diseases” to “[m]alaria, in particular” in the next sentence certainly implies that malaria was a New World disease, but they do not list it among those “diseases thought to be ‘transmitted’ from Europe” several pages earlier (Stripes). The relationship between the two sentences could be a misleading non sequitur conferring plausible deniability. It could be clever politics; it could be incompetent editing.


“Background Information on Malaria.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Accessed 4 February 2008.

Earle, Carville. “Pioneers of Providence: The Anglo-American Experience, 1492-1792.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82, no. 3 (1992), 478-499.

Gately, Iain. Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

Humpheys, Margaret. Malaria: Poverty, Race, and Public Health in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Nicholls, Mark. “George Percy's ‘Trewe Relacyon’: A Primary Source for the Jamestown Settlement.” Virginia Magazine of History & Biography 113, no. 3 (2005), 212-275.

Percy, George. “Observations gathered out of a Discourse of the Plantation of the Southerne Colonie in Virginia by the English, 1606.” In Purchas his Pilgrimes, vol. 4 (1625), 1685-1690.

Schweikart, Larry. “Why It’s Time for A Patriot’s History of the United States.” History News Network. 31 January 2005.

Schweikart, Larry, and Michael Allen. A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror, updated ed. New York: Sentinal, 2007.

Sheler, Jeffrey L. “Rethinking Jamestown.” Smithsonian 35 (October 2005), 48-54.

Stacy, Ann Hooper. “Jamestowne 1607 in Celebration of its 400th Anniversary.” The Pilgrim Newsletter 91, no. 2 (2007), 16-19.

Stripes, James. “Larry Schweikart’s Claim.” Patriots and Peoples. 30 January 2008.

Smith, John. “The Description of Virginia by Captaine John Smith.” In Purchas his Pilgrimes, vol. 4 (1625), 1691-1704.

Weinstein, Allen, and R. Jackson Wilson, Freedom and Crisis: An American History 2nd ed. New York, Random House, 1978.

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